Today I’m on a writing retreat, working in solitude away from home all day, trying to give plenty of space and time to creativity. I thought that was exactly what I had accomplished when in the process of working on a new song, I heard this phrase, “astronauts and butterflies,” in my head.
Fantastic! Lots of likeness and mash-up difference in that little gem! And the rhythm is nice, and it’s alphabetized – this could go all sorts of ways.
Globalization and Google. Such powerful forces. Twenty years ago I would probably never have come across a German band who conjured this phrase not long before I did. We could have both written a song with the same central phrase and been blissfully ignorant of one another. But now, with the power and ease of the world-wide-web, I almost feel it is my artistic duty to check these things before I move on with them.
Does it drive me to write better, more original things? I don’t know. I could certainly write my own “astronauts and butterflies” song and make it original. But now that I’ve heard this other song, I’ve lost a bit of the “eureka!” moment when I first heard the phrase in my own head.
Why did I hear the phrase in my head in the first place?
I heard David Wilcox at a house concert last year, and I identified with his discussion of the songwriting process. He said sometimes a phrase will come to him and strike him as intriguing, and he doesn’t know what it’s about, but he assumes it comes from the future, from the song that will be when he is finished writing it. He follows that phrase, gives it a place in the song, lets it inform his work as he continues writing that song.
That’s how it often works for me. But in this case, I am mystified. I have no heart to go on writing a song about astronauts and butterflies, when a fine one has already been written.
Maybe I came across this song once without paying attention to it, but my subconscious picked it up. Or maybe the sound waves or psychic waves from Transit Poetry’s creation of this song traveled to me in some inexplicable way.
These things happen often enough, though. A famous example is that of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace arriving independently of one another at a theory of biological evolution by natural selection. Everyday examples are commonplace. A friend once saw peanut butter sold for baking use in measured, easily-cut sticks like margarine at the grocery store and exclaimed, “hey, that was my idea!”
My explanation is that no person is an island. Culture, ideas, language, dreams, interactions, experiences, and many more factors influence our minds and our creative processes. Sometimes we think alike, imagine the same thing. Google has just made it easier for us to discover these times.
I think verse 9 of Ecclesiastes chapter 1 is a nice sum-up:
“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”
Now, with that encouragement, back to songwriting I go!